Common Cause for Nature

“Although unflinching about the scale of the conservation challenge, this is an optimistic report. It highlights the possibility of the conservation sector achieving a more concerted approach to engaging their supporters and the wider public. It presents evidence that by working in such a concerted way, in awareness of the values that it engages through its work, the sector could achieve greater success in galvanising sustained public pressure for more ambitious action on conservation issues.”

Thirteen UK conservation organisations came together in 2012 to commission this report. Led by PIRC, original linguistic analysis by academics at Lancaster and Essex Universities was carried out on six months of external NGO communications. Through this analysis, and supplemented with input from interviews, workshops and surveys, Common Cause for Nature explores the values the sector promotes in its communications, campaigns and activities. By learning from what works, and reforming what doesn’t, the sector can ensure its work cultivates the values that inspire lasting action.

The research builds on the original Common Cause report which has led to extensive debate within the third sector. It argues that NGOs would do well to critically examine their work, asking whether it helps to strengthen the values which underpin concern about a range of social and environmental issues.

We all share values that are associated with justice, compassion and environmental concern (intrinsic values), and we also all share values associated with image, competition and self-interest (extrinsic values). These two sets of values are psychologically in conflict. This means that reading about the beauty of nature – or the experience of being in a park – can engage environmental values and at the same time suppress self-interested or materialistic values. It also means that being encouraged to think about profit and image will suppress environmental concern.


Common Cause for Nature is an inquiry into the implications of the Common Cause analysis for the conservation sector, and an attempt to answer the following questions:

  • What values do conservation NGOs currently strengthen through their communications and other activities?

  • How might conservation NGOs adjust their communications and activities in order to engage and strengthen intrinsic values?


The analysis reveals that universalism and benevolence values (most associated with environmental concern) were expressed relatively infrequently in communications. Self-direction, another intrinsic value associated with autonomous action, was expressed highly frequently, however. The graph below shows the differences in the frequency of values used across all organisations.

Full Results

The frames used ranged from those thought to be highly environmentally motivating, such as connection to nature and joint action, to those that could actually inhibit environmental concern, such as defenders and consumer transactions.

Frames Table

We make recommendations based on these findings: both for communications and for the wider experiences that NGOs create on a daily basis: at reserves, in volunteer schemes, and through the advocating for policies that change society.

We also argue that in focusing on immediate and material conservation goals, the sector may be missing opportunities to build long-lasting concern about the natural world in the wider public. Has the sector lost sight of the bigger picture?

The UK public is seriously disengaged from nature. Children can name more brands than British wildlife, and people spend less and less time outdoors. This has impacts on our health and wellbeing, as well as explaining why more people aren’t more concerned about the environment. In addressing this, it’s clear that this issue has a number of roots – some of which are outside of the traditional remit of conservation – that must be addressed. We work the longest hours in Europe, we are bombarded with commercial advertising, we have a housing crisis, and large numbers of people are living in increasingly insecure conditions. Each of these things has an impact on both how much time we spend outdoors and on our values. This means they will also impact public motivation to act on behalf of the environment. The report recommends the conservation sector focuses some energy on these issues.

Fostering values such as self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world can have real and lasting benefits in conservation. By using this understanding to identify new areas for policies and campaigning, and by working together to cultivate these intrinsic values, we can create a society that is more compassionate, more connected to nature, and more motivated to protect our environment for generations to come.

Case studies

Both reports contain a number of case studies and examples to highlight how conservation organisations can ensure their work fosters the values associated with lasting environmental concern. However, there are clearly countless more examples that could be discussed, we will continue to add case studies to this page over the coming months – let us know if you have an example you would like us to feature.

Participating organisations

Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Campaign to Protect Rural England, John Muir Award, Mammal Society, Marine Conservation Society, Ramblers, RSPB, Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, The Conservation Volunteers Scotland, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, WWF-UK, Zoological Society of London.

Get in touch

If you’re interested in a workshop or would like to find out about the second phase of this initiative, starting early 2015, contact Ralph:

For more information on the research, please contact Elena:

Richard HawkinsCommon Cause for Nature


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